Wednesday 23 October 2019

Paschal Donohoe: 'Managing costs key to Project Ireland 2040'

Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe. Photo: Steve Humphreys

They say a week is a long time in politics. And some weeks are longer than others. Quite rightly, this newspaper and other outlets have focused in recent days on what is a substantial cost overrun in the National Children's Hospital.

Last Tuesday I sought and received support from all my colleagues to ensure that this much needed facility is delivered. We examined all our projects and programmes on a system-wide basis. Where projects were, due to external issues, paused in their life-cycle such as in the case of A5 road in Northern Ireland, we moved those currently unused funds to where they are needed now.

This challenge has shone a light on the absolute necessity for us to work cohesively as a system and by doing so, set all our projects up for future success.

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In 2017, in anticipation of the major uplift in investment set out in Project Ireland 2040, the Government invited the IMF to undertake an assessment of how we evaluate, plan and deliver public investment. While the process concluded that investment was generally well managed in Ireland and that there was a good standard of project management, it pointed to a number of areas where there was scope for improvement.

Over the past year, we have made much headway in implementing the IMF's recommendations. This process of reform will continue and last week I announced a number of changes which can help avoid major cost overrun on key national priority projects.

These include how we treat risk and uncertainty in project planning; how we approach the procurement process; how we evaluate major projects; how we improve the performance of advisory firms; and how we ensure that we have the right blend of skills and experience in the public sector in order to deliver the full ambition of Project Ireland 2040.

For us to achieve value for money while delivering Project Ireland 2040, we will need a healthy and vibrant construction industry. Working with my department and other state bodies through the Construction Sector Group, the industry is putting in place new initiatives to improve talent attraction and retention, enhance technology adoption and achieve a major uplift in productivity. The value of construction sector investment is set to rise from €26bn to €41bn in the years to 2023. For us to maximise the value of this uplift, we must ensure that the sector is working smarter, supported by policy and to a clear industry-led strategy for innovation.

In the first year of Project Ireland 2040, investment has grown by 24pc and critical economic, social and cultural infrastructure is being delivered across the country. Last Thursday, with the one year anniversary of the publication of Project Ireland 2040 approaching - the Government's overarching strategy for social, economic and cultural infrastructure for the generation ahead - the sod was turned on the North Runway at Dublin Airport.

On the same day, the second tranche of €62m from the €1bn Rural Regeneration and Development Fund was announced, promoting balanced regional development and ensuring that opportunity is shared all over Ireland.

Although the past several weeks have been challenging, they have, in the main, been the stuff of democracy in action. As a Government, we are accountable to all our people. If we look to take credit for our successes, we must also put our hands up and take responsibility when things go wrong.

We need to understand how projects deliver against the promises initially set out, feed this back and improve our performance over time. We need to share these lessons with each other so there's a common, transparent view and that we continue to evaluate and reform our performance to ensure the delivery of world class schools, housing, public transport and hospitals for all our citizens.

Paschal Donohoe is Fine Gael TD for Dublin Central and Minister for Finance

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